[sixties-l] Europes Bill Clintons

From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: Wed May 09 2001 - 01:44:43 EDT

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    Europe's Bill Clintons


    By Anne Applebaum

    Tuesday, May 8, 2001

    "Za Chlebem do Polski" read the joke title of a front-page article in
    Zycie, a Warsaw newspaper, over the weekend. The literal translation of the
    phrase is "To Earn His Bread in Poland," but the connotation is somewhat
    different. To go and "earn bread" abroad implies emigration to America,
    third-class steamer berths, Ellis Island. Nobody from America, of course,
    comes to "earn bread" in Poland. But the subhead then continued the joke:
    "Now even Bill Clinton, the former president of the United States, finds
    that it pays to do a bit of work in Poland." For it is he: While it isn't
    exactly a reverse immigration, the former president is scheduled to make a
    speech here the week after next, at a business conference. Nor is Zycie the
    only paper to have trumpeted details of his rumoured fee ($100,000) and the
    cost of tickets to the conference ($1,500), enormous amounts of money in a
    country where the average wage is a few hundred dollars a month, and most
    people, if you asked them, would probably prefer to pay retired politicians
    not to speak.

    Curiously, news of Bill Clinton's first unofficial trip to Warsaw has
    filtered out in the same week that another Polish newspaper, Gazeta
    Wyborcza, is sponsoring another conference, this one dedicated to the
    "Generation of 1968." Among those attending are Daniel Cohn-Bendit, the
    leader of the 1968 student revolt in Paris; Peter Uhl, Czech dissident and
    founder of the illegal Revolutionary Youth Movement in Prague;
    Sergei Kovalyov, Russian dissident of the same generation; Adam Michnik,
    Polish dissident and editor of Gazetza Wyborcza. Alas, the most famous
    American member of the club will not actually overlap with his European
    counterparts, but their proximity makes me think that the phenomenon of the
    generation of 1968, so much remarked upon over the past eight years in the
    United States, deserves another Pan-European look.
    For what is immediately striking, looking over the list of participants,
    and counting a few who will not be in Warsaw over the next few weeks, is
    how similar their career patterns have been, which is strange, given what
    different societies they came from. The students of Berkeley were
    protesting against Vietnam and capitalism. The students of Paris were
    protesting against Algeria and capitalism. The young Joschka Fischer, now
    German foreign minister, threw rocks at police in protest against the
    wartime silence of his parents' generation and against capitalism. Young
    Czechs and Poles, on the other hand, were organizing university riots
    against communism in Warsaw. Meanwhile, the Russian dissidents were barely
    able to unfurl a few banners in protest against the Soviet invasion of
    Prague in 1968 before they were rounded up and shipped off to prison camps.
    Nevertheless, they did all have a few things in common. They all wore the
    uniform of their era: T-shirts, sneakers, blue jeans (the Russians had to
    buy them on the black market). Many of the East European dissidents were
    the children of Communists and were thus, like the Westerners, engaged in a
    recognizable form of generational rebellion. Many in both East and West
    were influenced by the ideas of the New Left and also spoke dreamily of a
    Third Way between communism and capitalism, although in the case of the
    Easterners, this was largely because actually calling for capitalism was
    considered too outrageous.
    Just as the baby boomers have left their distinctive stamp on American
    politics, the same generation of European intellectuals also left their
    mark on their own countries. In Eastern Europe, the dissidents who came of
    age in 1968 became both the tacticians and the coordinators of the
    revolutions of 1989. They wrote and distributed the samizdat pamphlets,
    they helped organize the strikes and protests, they kept Western
    journalists informed. In the wake of the revolution, many moved from the
    world of shadow politics into public roles, and they had extremely high
    hopes. They were idealists poised to put their ideals into practice.
    Unfortunately, a decade after 1989, the dissidents of the 1968 generation
    look less heroic, and more like their Western counterparts. A few, like
    Fischer and Vaclav Havel, have succeeded in mainstream democratic politics.
    Others, like Cohn-Bendit, exist on the political fringe. Some, like
    Kovalyov, are effectively still dissidents. Some dropped out
    altogether. Many others, like Michnik, became journalists, the profession
    to which the irresponsibly critical have always been attracted, and no
    wonder: As a rule, the generation that popularized the rhetoric of
    destruction hasn't proved particularly good at working within political
    institutions, even democratic political institutions. It is striking, in
    fact, that the outstanding political successes of that generation are those
    who created their own. Fischer became a leader of the German Green Party;
    Havel invented the democratic Czech presidency. Both were condemned by
    their former comrades, the Germans who thought Fischer had sold out to the
    system, the Czechs who didn't understand why their old friend Vaclav didn't
    want to get drunk with them anymore.

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